By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Special Envoy Sun Guoxiang and other senior Chinese officials met with two of Myanmar’s strongest ethnic armed groups on August 24, two days after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi returned from her first visit to China as head of Myanmar’s government and a week before the commencement of the upcoming 21st Century Panglong peace conference.
The delegation met with representatives of the United Wa State Army and the Mong La-based National Democratic Alliance Army in the border village of Lan Chan on August 24, according to several media reports.
Neither armed group has issued a public statement on the meeting. The Chinese Embassy in Yangon did not respond to requests for comment from Frontier.
Ms. Yun Sun, a Chinese foreign policy expert and senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington-based security think-tank, said the meeting would have been convened to confirm the participation of the armed groups at the 21st Century Panglong Conference and hear their views about Aung San Suu Kyi’s plans for the peace process.
“China can convince the UWSA and NDAA to join the Union Peace Conference, but cannot force them to agree to anything they don’t want,” she added.
Sun Guoxiang will be a formal attendee of the 21st Century Panglong Conference, which opens on Wednesday. He was also present during the four-day Mai Ja Yang conference of non-state armed groups in late July.
Representatives of the UWSA, which declined an invitation to the Mai Ja Yang summit, met separately with NDAA leaders and Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw while the conference was in progress.
The UWSA and NDAA were formed after the China-backed Communist Party of Burma dissolved in 1989 along ethnic lines. Both groups signed ceasefires with the former military government that year, and both signed renewed bilateral ceasefires with the Thein Sein government in 2011.
Both groups declined to participate in the October 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. Their expected attendance at the Panglong 21st Century Conference is seen as a vote of confidence in Aung San Suu Kyi, who will chair the five-day meeting.